Mom of student who vanished in ’09 says justice won’t bring her back but could save someone else

A phone call from the Virginia State police to the mother of 20-year-old murder victim Morgan Harrington provided a break she'd long been waiting for -- a forensic clue had linked her daughter to the suspect in the disappearance of another college student, Hannah Graham.

While Gil Harrington said the lead won't bring back Morgan, it might result in the arrest and conviction of her killer and "prevent another young, vibrant girl from being taken."

"That would give me a lot of satisfaction," Harrington told Tuesday. "An arrest and conviction in Morgan’s case doesn’t change a huge amount of things for us. Morgan’s still dead. The bedroom is still empty. We’re not having grand kids. But it will save the next girl."


Virginia Tech student Morgan Harrington disappeared on Oct. 17, 2009, while attending a much-anticipated Metallica concert with friends on the University of Virginia's campus in Charlottesville. Her skeletal remains were found three months later on a farm a short distance away in a case that has garnered few promising leads -- until now.

Virginia authorities said Monday that forensic evidence linked Morgan to 32-year-old Jesse L Matthew Jr., the prime suspect in the disappearance of University of Virginia student Hannah Graham, who was last seen on Sept. 13 after leaving a party in Charlottesville. Investigators had previously said DNA from Harrington's attacker matched a perpetrator in an unsolved 2005 sexual assault in Fairfax.

The Virginia State Police -- described by Harrington as "notoriously close-mouthed" -- did not elaborate on the evidence when they called her Monday, she said.

Matthew was apprehended in Texas last week and charged with abduction with intent to defile in the case of 18-year-old Graham. The college freshman from Alexandria, Va., has not yet been found, despite expensive ground searches and the assistance of the FBI.

Gil Harrington said her family has "ridden a roller coaster" over the past five years, as their hopes are raised every time unrelated arrests are reported or possible new clues gathered. She said when she first learned of Matthew, while helping in the search for Hannah, "the question did rise in me" as to whether he might be responsible for her daughter's murder.

The similarities between the two women's disappearances are striking. Harrington, from Roanoke, was last seen by her friends as she was leaving UVA's John Paul Jones Arena in search of a restroom. When friends later called her cell phone, Harrington said she'd been locked out of the arena and would find a ride home. Witnesses later reported seeing a woman matching Harrington's description walking along a bridge not far from the arena.

Harrington's remains were found Jan. 26, 2010 at Anchorage Farm in Albemarle County, 10 miles outside of Charlottesville. While police released few details about Harrington's death, her family said in 2010 her murder had been violent, with several bones broken. She had also been raped, they said.

Graham also disappeared after becoming separated from her friends. Surveillence video showed Graham as she walked or ran alone past a bar and a service station, then onto Charlottesville's Downtown Mall. She sent friends a string of text messages, saying she was lost after leaving an off-campus party, according to police. Witnesses later told detectives she was seen with Matthew at a bar.

Matthew, a hospital worker, had a taxi license at the time Harrington disappeared, according to the Associated Press. He is being held without bond at the Albemarle-Charlottesville Regional Jail and is expected to appear via a video link for a bond hearing Thursday in Charlottesville General District Court.

Harrington and Graham are among a handful of young women who have vanished in central Virginia over the last five years -- cases Gil Harrington believes are connected.

Samantha Anne Clarke, 19, was last seen in Orange, Va., shortly after midnight on Sept. 13, 2010. Dashad Laquinn Smith, who was also 19 and transgender, disappeared in Charlottesville in November 2012.

"Either that scatter pattern is attributable to a startling crime wave or attributable to the same person or persons, as I believe it is," she told

The Harrington family is offering a $100,000 reward for information leading to the arrest and conviction of the person or persons responsible for their daughter's murder. The band Metallica is offering an additional  $50,000, bringing the reward to $150,000 for information leading to the arrest and conviction of the person or persons responsible.

In the Graham case, meanwhile, authorities are offering a $100,000 reward for information leading to her safe return.

Harrington, an education major and a gifted artist, was "bright, shiny and smart," her mother told "She was beautiful on the inside and out -- full of potential."

"At least I know where Morgan is," she said. "The Graham family doesn't have their daughter. We desperately need to find Hannah."